Worker protections sooner on the cards as bill split

Employees with post-traumatic stress or facing domestic violence have been given new hope they could have further protection by Christmas.

A slate of changes to workplace laws have been split so less contentious parts can pass immediately while the government and opposition go head to head over the rest.

The omnibus legislation will close loopholes that allow companies to pay labour hire workers less, add protection for gig economy workers and allow for casuals to transition into permanent work – which are opposed by the coalition.

But senators on all sides agree on provisions that would make it easier for frontline workers to access claims for post-traumatic stress disorder and improve protections for employees experiencing domestic violence.

Senate crossbenchers Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock introduced their own bills with the non-contentious parts of Labor’s laws on Monday.

Their bills would also bring silica dust regulation in line with measures for asbestos to better protect those at risk developing silicosis and protect employees when businesses become insolvent.

The private bills – which the coalition has indicated it would support – wedges Labor, which supports the measures but is staunchly against splitting its own bill.

Employment Minister Tony Burke has pushed back against the split, saying delays to the other provisions would hold up protections and fair pay for workers.

The government had never supported any of the measures being delayed, Mr Burke said.

“I don’t accept that it is controversial or contentious to prevent workers from being underpaid,” he added.

“Certain business groups will find every excuse to delay this legislation, they have members who pay them to keep wages low and they know this legislation will get wages moving.”

The Greens would scrutinise the bills before coming to a position, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said.

But the minor party would push to help boost worker wages and conditions against businesses who “screw their workers for more and more”.

“We will consider what’s the best way forward and what is the best way of getting a good outcome for Australian workers to make sure we close all those loopholes,” she said.

Voting to support workers with PTSD and suffering from domestic violence shouldn’t be contentious and needed to be passed before the broader bill is debated next year, Senator Lambie said.

“We would like these few really important things removed from the bill, that really assist people out there that are doing it tough’,” she told ABC TV.

While the sweeping changes needed an adequate amount of time to be scrutinised, the added protections could be passed now, Senator Pocock said.

The broader suite of measures has drawn criticism from business groups and the opposition who argued the changes would create uncertainty for operators and increase costs.

The Master Builders Association has backed the split, saying it will give workers greater protections while the parliament has more time to debate the negative consequences the bill could have.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce also supported splitting the bill, backing worker protections but remaining against provisions that would change laws surrounding labour hire and allowing casuals to move to full-time work.

But the Australian Council of Trade Unions urged the bill be passed in its entirety, saying all the elements were important to boost wages, especially during a cost-of-living crisis.

A Senate inquiry into the broader bill is due to report by February 1.

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Dominic Giannini and Andrew Brown
(Australian Associated Press)


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